#PRAwards 2021 spills: 'There has been a renaissance in corporate PR,' says Golin APAC president

PR consultancy Golin wowed the judges at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's recent PR Awards for the work it created with FairPrice, where it effectively launched a strategic public relations campaign accompanied with social media activations. The campaign won the team the bronze award for the best PR led integrated communications.

The duo introduced various initiatives to address the challenges the community faced during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in the brand winning hearts of members of the public and social sentiments gaining traction on the positive side. Its campaign received 100 pieces of coverage across publications such as The Straits Times, The Business Times, Channel NewsAsia, TODAY, as well as posts from parenting, F&B and lifestyle influencers.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, president of Asia Pacific, Golin, Darren Burns, shared some of the proudest achievements for Golin in 2020, and what can be expected of the agency in 2021. 

This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for PR Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.

What would you say was the biggest accomplishment for the whole PR/communications community in 2020?

Burns: With the massive societal impact of the pandemic, we’ve worked with our clients to try and deliver value to society, while managing myriad issues and crises, and of course accelerating the move to digital communications. This is manifest in much of the work over the last year.

There has been a renaissance in corporate PR – whether it’s purpose or ESG. Communications have never been more in demand and the industry has responded strongly, justifying our seat at the table.

There’s also been a great recognition by the industry on the importance of mental health – it’s now fundamental to creating a positive workplace. I’m really excited to see what industry group HKPR will come up with as it takes an industry-wide approach to work-life balance.

What would you say was your proudest achievement of the year?

Burns: Apart from the birth of our first child during the lockdown, definitely joining Golin the week before that! I think what really stood out for me was the enhanced sense of resilience and adaptability from our people - and also our clients. We’ve felt an intense sense of partnership with our clients – an even kinder, more respectful relationship. Long may it continue!

What are some communications trends you see carrying on post-pandemic?

Burns: There is a great quote from Lenin (via Scott Galloway) that really sums up what’s happening in our sector during COVID-19 – “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

COVID-19 has been the great accelerator of trends that were already in play pre-COVID-19 period – purpose, ESG, DEI, e-commerce, remote working, data analytics, etc – all these have been pulled forward by many years.

The companies that have done well are those that have a real values-driven culture and are willing to embrace the new unusual and experiment with new ideas and platforms.

We definitely see a rebirth of brand communications and reputation – stakeholders now hold brands to account like never before. We are seeing interest in ESG for myriad clients – whether in beauty or chemicals. CSR is no longer a side hustle it’s now front and centre of corporate competitive advantage.

How will the role of communications professionals evolve as we move into a rather uncertain future?

Burns: The future professional simple must embrace technology and bring a growth mindset of testing and learning – whether its an in-house or agency-side.

Clients still demand high quality work - strategic and creative - that hits the mark with external and internal stakeholders. This has been particularly challenging during COVID-19 as we pivot and repurpose to remain relevant and of value.

What’s increased this year is really around responsiveness. Given the pandemic our clients appreciate flexibility and adaptability as we remain in a fluid and rapidly changing pandemic. I think rapid response has been key while at the same time having the right to switch off after work hours. How do we walk that line going forward is a key solve for all of us.

In a way, we are entering unchartered territory now that Asia Pacific is the largest trading market in the world – it’s time to lead in communications.

What can we expect from your company in 2021?

Burns: As the region looks to recover after COVID-19, we need to be firmly in Asia for Asia to capture that opportunity by delivering work that really connects with our stakeholders. We increasingly need to develop solves that work in various Asian markets – and not cookie cut from the US or Europe. We see this innovation in China, and this is something we are evolving in Southeast Asia and other regions.

What’s clear is that we need to really put data at the centre of what we do.

If you want a seat at the table, we need to demonstrate the value of what we do. We are hyper-focused on creating strategy rooted in data around the customer/stakeholder journey. Everything starts from this at Golin.